THE SECOND INSTALLMENT IN THE INFAMOUS MIIKE TRILOGY
DEAD OR ALIVE: TOBOSHA
Nov 7, 2003
Dead or Alive 2 is something of a surprise. Of course, following the first film’s ending it would be impossible to make a continuation of the story, so what's a director to do? Flip everything up. Change tempos. Continue the story once the two souls have been reincarnated. Make a mellower, more reflective, more thought provoking film. Give the audience something they can savor. And y’know what? It works. Dead or Alive 2: Birds, is by far my favourite of Miike’s trilogy.
The film, again, stars both Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi, only this time their characters are named Mizuki Otamoko and Shuuichi Sawada, respectively. Mizuki (Aikawa) is hired by the Magician Higashino (Shinya Tsukimoto of Ichi the Killer, and director of the Tetsuo films) to make a hit on the Yakuza Boss in town, in order to start a war between the Chinese Triads and the Japanese Yakuza. This will hopefully level the playing field so that Higashino ends up with a better change at becoming a major power himself. Mizuki accepts the job, and has almost finished it (the Yakuza boss actually in his sights) when a third party runs in and kills the whole group, Boss and bodyguards, before Mizuki can even pull the trigger. On top of that, Mizuki recognizes the assassin as a fellow orphan/ and best friend from his youth. Of course Mizuki claims he finished the job and sets out to find his old friend. Again, this is all within the first 10 minutes of the film.
Most of the story actually takes place at the old orphanage where the two characters grew up. In fact, it reminded me a lot of the beach scenes in Takeshi “Beat” Kitano’s Sonatine. You have extremely peaceful, profoundly beautiful sequences showing the two killers relaxing at their childhood school, playing dodgeball with orphans, catching up with an old friend (Kenichi Endo of Visitor Q), and reflecting on their childhood. Their joy and inner peace is nicely juxtaposed with the violence and instability between the two (now) warring clans. For example, while the Yakuza and Triads are killing each other off, Mizuki and Shuuichi are helping a theater troupe put on a play for the orphans. The play is so funny, and completely offensive, you are laughing way into the short scene of graphic violence showing the gangs at war.
Again, the film is far more cerebral than the first dead or alive. While in the first film, even the music was fast, pounding rock that didn’t allow time for a second though, in this film the score is a lilting, melancholic piano piece, nicely complementing the film’s themes of reflection on the past, making a better future for the next generation, and the main themes of death and rebirth. But, as with the best of stories, there are no clear cut answers to be found. This film doesn’t work at the same levels as the first Dead or Alive. Miike expects much more from the audience. You can’t just sit back and watch the pretty pictures. You have to interpret them. Flashbacks, thoughts, and feelings are all presented in a visual medium. There is as much symbolism crammed into each scene as in the weepy apartment dialogue in Chungking Express. But no one will walk away from the film with the same interpretation. Even the ending is wonderfully ambiguous. (I’ll wait until some of you see it in order to discuss my viewpoint)
I absolutely loved Dead or Alive 2. Check it out if you can. You may want to check out Dead or Alive 1 first, in order to catch all the references to the first film, but it’s not entirely necessary. If you’ve already seen the first film, get ready for a huge change. You’re not in for the same film a second time. Give it a chance. You’ll get something infinitely better. I’ve seen Dead or Alive 2 twice now, and will be going back for a third viewing.